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Child Development & Parenting:Adolescence (12-24)
Basic Information

group of teens

From parents' perspectives, adolescence could quite possibly be the most nerve-wracking developmental period in their children's lives. It is natural for parents to feel anxious when their teens learn to drive a car; begin to form romantic and sexual relationships; decide to get tattoos and body piercings; and flirt with danger by experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Despite these perils, adolescence is also a period of great pride and satisfaction for parents as they begin to recognize that their years of hard work, commitment, and personal sacrifice have paid off. Their once dependent children gradually become independent and responsible adults. Along the way there are significant landmarks such as their teen getting a first job; choosing a career or trade; moving out to live on their own; and developing a rewarding social network.

The adolescent developmental period is a lengthy period of transition spanning the ages of 12-24 years. During adolescence a m...

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What are the nutritional requirements in adolescence?

  • Despite the abundant supply of food in the United States, most adolescents do not receive adequate nutrition at a time when their bodies' growth and development is accelerating.
  • In general, adolescent diets include too much fat, sugar, caffeine, and sodium and not enough nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and calcium-rich foods such as dairy products.
  • Sedentary 12-year-old males need about 1800 calories each day. This peaks at 2600 calories around age 19-20 years old and then decreases to 2400 calories a day from ages 21 through 24 years.
  • Sedentary teen girls around the ages of 12-13 years need about 1600 calories per day, and their daily calorie requirement reaches the highest level around age 19 years at 2000 calories.
  • Not only do adolescents need to eat the right amount of food, but they also need to eat foods which contain the right type of nutrients, and in the right proportions.
  • There are four key methods parents can use to assist their youth to develop healthy eating habits: 1) provide nutritional information, 2) provide opportunities to practice making healthy choices,3) model healthy eating habits, and 4) ensure the availability of quick, convenient, nutrient-rich snacks.
  • Nutritional problems can still arise or worsen during adolescence including problems of overeating and/or consistently making poor food choices, resulting in obesity; developing problems with unhealthy and extremely restrictive dieting without meeting the minimum nutritional requirements necessary for healthy growth and development; and Diabetes.

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What are the physical activity requirements in adolescence?

  • It is important for adolescents to develop habits that incorporate regular physical activity into their daily lives so that these habits are carried into adulthood.
  • It can be difficult for youth to get sufficient exercise due to the increased popularity of sedentary entertainment (television, video games, etc.) and a decrease in physical education opportunities at school.
  • Any physical activity that requires the body to move enables youth to reap the health benefits of exercise.
  • Many youth enjoy playing organized, competitive sports such as basketball, cheerleading, baseball, gymnastics, football, golf, tennis, soccer, lacrosse, track and field, etc.
  • Youth can also receive the benefits of exercise by participating in regular physical activity through informal and unstructured activities, such as gardening, shooting hoops in the driveway, dancing in their bedroom with their friends, riding bicycles around the neighborhood, skateboarding at the skate park, walking the dog after dinner, or hiking on a trail in the woods.
  • Parents need to be informed about the training methods used by their children's coaches and trainers, and ensure their teens take certain precautions to prevent sports-related injuries.
  • Youth should be spending at least one hour a day, most days of every week, engaged in some form of physical activity.
  • The best way parents can encourage their teens' participation in regular physical activity is by modeling this behavior themselves.
  • Parents can also help their children by assisting them to find physical activities that match their children's interests and talents.

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How important is sleep in adolescence?

  • Adolescents need an average 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep every night just to function.
  • Teens' bodies' natural sleep rhythms (called circadian rhythms) shift during adolescence causing them to remain alert and awake later in the night, with a corresponding desire to sleep later in the day.
  • Parents can help teens to identify and limit caffeinated beverages in the evening.
  • Teens should establish regular sleep and wake times that allow for an adequate amount of sleep each night.
  • Teens will also benefit from developing and maintaining a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Beyond bedtimes and bedtime routines, youth should learn to structure their time so that important activities do not detain them from getting to bed on time.
  • It is best to avoid strenuous exercise like running, aerobics, weight lifting, or playing basketball right before bed, as these types of activities will release hormones into the body that cause people to feel more awake and alert.
  • Anxiety and worry are great sleep disrupters and prevent youth from feeling sleepy.
  • Chronic sleep disturbance (sleeping too much or sleeping too little) can be a symptom of a more serious problem such a depressive disorder, or drug and alcohol use.

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What topics might parents and adolescents disagree about or need to discuss?

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What healthcare is important during adolescence?

  • Adolescents will need to learn to manage their own healthcare and should be developing a healthy lifestyle that will be maintained throughout their adult lives.
  • Parents will want to ensure their youth continue to receive routine, annual physical examinations.
  • Annual physicals are the perfect time to make sure that youth are caught up on their vaccinations.
  • It's also important that youth also receive routine dental and vision check-ups.
  • Annual physical exams should also be screening adolescents for behavioral health concerns such as depression; anxiety; or possible problems with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.
  • Parents have an important role in identifying the early warning signs of a behavioral or emotional problem because they regularly observe their teens' behavioral and emotional patterns.
  • Parents should be on the look-out for possible warning signs that their child may be at risk for suicide.
  • All adolescents who are sexually active should get regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Hepatitis B.
  • They key to empowering youth to independently manage their own healthcare is to gradually give youth more and more control over their healthcare, while teaching them the skills they need for self-care.

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What discipline, love and guidance is necessary during adolescence?

  • One of the difficulties of raising teenage children is achieving the right balance between love and discipline; liberties and limitations; and, independence and responsibility.
  • Parents should help children to become resilient, which means that they have the ability to "bounce back" or to readily recover from painful, stressful, and difficult experiences.
  • One thing parents can do to build resilience is to provide the proper amount of support and guidance.
  • When parents are overly protective to the point of being smothering, or provide too much direction without letting youth work out some problems on their own, they rob youth of the opportunity to develop and practice independent problem-solving skills.
  • Youth should have an understanding of what privileges are available to them for following the rules and meeting expectations, and what consequences will occur when they fail to follow the rules, or make poor choices.
  • Parents can begin to help adolescents develop time management skills by having high (but attainable) expectations for school achievement, household chores, and other important activities.
  • Family rules should also establish clear expectations about the responsibilities of family members toward each other.
  • If parents become aware of activities or rules at another child\'s home that they do not agree with, they should calmly discuss their concerns with the parents of the other child.
  • Parents need to express clear rules and expectations around teen substance use.
  • By late adolescence (18 years of age and older), parents need to set clear boundaries about any assistance they will (or won't) provide while their children are becoming independent adults.

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How can parents protect an adolescent's health and safety?

  • Parents must be fully aware of the risks and dangers associated with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs
  • While parents cannot completely prevent their children's eventual exposure to alcohol and other drugs, there are steps parents can take to reduce the potential risks.
  • Parents will want to ensure their youth learn to drive safely and always use good judgment when operating a motor vehicle.
  • There are several warning signs parents should pay attention to that could indicate that their adolescent may be a victim of dating violence.
  • If parents are concerned about their teens' involvement with fighting or gang activity, they can do several things.
  • Teens can encounter all types of violence online, including violent videos, hate messages on blogs and in chat rooms, and violent computer games. Youth who are curious about sex can find plenty of pornography on the Internet, some of which depicts sexual acts coupled with violence.
  • Bullying is the repeated abuse, hostility, aggression, manipulation, or violence between two youth where one youth possesses greater power than the other.
  • Parents can ensure their children's continued safety by providing education about making their new dorm, apartment, or home the safest it can be.
  • Youth also need to make sure they know how to protect themselves while they are traveling in public places.

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